SEATTLE (CBS SEATTLE) — A new, discreet condom has been developed that prevents pregnancy and protects against sexually transmitted diseases by dissolving inside of the body and releasing preventative drugs after use.

Researchers at the University of Washington developed the condom from tiny microfibers where strength, solubility and shape can all be adjusted for best personal use. Published in the Public Library of Science’s “PLoS One” journal, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the researchers nearly $1 million to pursue the new “electrospinning” technology.

The “electrospinning” method uses an electric field to charge fluid through air to create the very fine, nanometer-sized fibers.

“Our dream is to create a product women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection and unintended pregnancy,” wrote corresponding author Kim Woodrow, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering. “We have the drugs to do that. It’s really about delivering them in a way that makes them more potent, and allows a woman to want to use it.”

“Electrospinning” has existed for decades, but it’s only recently been automated to make it practical for applications such as filtration and tissue engineering. This is the first study to use nanofibers for vaginal drug delivery, wrote the researchers.

The versatility of the fibers allows many more effective options of delivering medicines and supplements than current technology. Gels, tablets and pills aren’t able to incorporate components such as proteins and antibodies that can assist women in prolonged protection against STD’s and unwanted pregnancy.

At a meeting last year, Woodrow presented the concept, and co-authors Emily Krogstad and Cameron Ball, both first-year graduate students, agreed to pursue the project.

“This method allows controlled release of multiple compounds,” Ball wrote in a Washington press release. “We were able to tune the fibers to have different release properties.”

One of the fabrics dissolves within minutes, potentially offering users immediate and discrete protection. Another fabric dissolves gradually over a few days, providing an option for sustained delivery, similar to the birth-control pill, to provide contraception and protect against HIV.

The researchers agreed that this technology is more discrete, but that there is never a single answer to whether or not this form of contraception will be adopted by for use.

“At the time of sex, are people going to actually use it? That’s where having multiple options really comes into play,” Krogstad told the University of Washington in a press release. “Depending on cultural background and personal preferences, certain populations may differ in terms of what form of technology makes the most sense for them.”

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